Sound Garden: Ray of Light

Photographs by Maxwell Tielman

OK, here’s the thing: I am a huge Madonna fan. Her music was the soundtrack of my ’80s and ’90s youth, even though the 2000s saw some real gems from Madge. This week on Sound Garden, in honor of spring’s awakening, I am using 1998’s Ray of Light for my floral inspiration.

The Ray of Light album cover is a glassy, sparkling Mario Testino image of Madonna at her most extraordinary and ethereal. All the music was written during the most fruitful period in Madonna’s life: She had embarked on voice lessons for the first time in her career (in preparation for her starring role in the movie Evita), she had taken up yoga, she had begun delving into the study of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and, perhaps most importantly, she had given birth to her daughter, Lourdes. Madonna’s becoming a mother was, quite naturally, a seminal moment in her life. It was particularly poignant in light of the fact that her own mother had died when she was quite young. She has described her mother’s death as shaping both her emotional and creative life, and she has written several songs touching on the subject, including the track “Mer Girl” on Ray of Light.

The music on Ray of Light is a fabulously eclectic mix of pop, electronic and dance music, with some ballads thrown in for good measure. Madonna’s writing and singing are at a career high on this album. Ray of Light was met with universal critical acclaim, included on multiple “top” lists — “of the ’90s,” “of all time,” “listen to before you die” — and won several Grammys. Because Madonna has been prolific but often panned, Ray of Light is still considered her opus. Personally, when I hear the first three seconds of the title track, I am very simply compelled by a force beyond myself to rock out.

In concert with one of our March themes — family — and feeding off Madonna’s inspiration from her baby daughter, I selected bright, celebratory blooms for this week’s design. I also reference Madonna’s introduction to yoga by choosing a palette of saturated colors that you might find at an Indian bazaar.

Follow along with me after the jump as I demonstrate creating a tight, pave-style arrangement using absolutely no greens or foliage! — Sarah


Pictured from left to right: spray rose, protea, Free Spirit rose, daffodil, parrot tulip


Pictured from left to right: asclepia, hydrangea, tweedia, calla lily

No greens, no foliage. Let’s do this thing!


How amazing is this coppery-gold hobnail mercury glass vase? Totally amazing. I think it is almost the exact color of Madonna’s hair on the cover of Ray of Light. And YES, I certainly did traipse into a salon in March of 1998 and say to my stylist, “Can you please make my hair the honey-blond color that you see here on this album cover?” Because the vase has a wide mouth and because we aren’t planning to help ourselves with the structure of greens, I used clear floral tape to create a grid over the mouth. The tape grid, as I have mentioned previously, is a florist’s best friend. You can use as many pieces as you want (both vertically and horizontally) to provide yourself and your stems as much or as little support as you think you might need.


My first move was to place a single stem of each kind of flower in the vase. I wanted to make sure I was measuring each bloom to stand in the vase on approximately the same plane. The key to a gorgeous pave design is to build flower on flower, clustering blossoms together on the same plane. The varying hues and textures of the blooms are what make the “landscape” interesting. Notice how my flowers are propped up easily by the tape grid? You never have to deal with the frustration of blooms swimming around in the vase this way. You can simply concentrate on where you want to place everything.


Once you’ve conquered the mouth of the vase with your tape grid, your main concerns with not using greens or foliage are obscuring the neck of the vase and filling holes. Obviously, you never want people to see through to the vase when looking at the arrangement, and you never want the neck exposed. Be sure to turn your vase as you build the design and view it from all angles. Don’t forget to crouch down and look underneath, too! You can use some blooms that drape over the sides, like the hydrangea pictured above, to help with your mission of hiding the vase neck.


Experiment with clustering some blooms together — it really does add a level of sophistication to your design. Just by placing two to three flowers next to each other, you can feature and highlight different textures or hues and draw the eye to various places in the vase.


Oh, how I love thee, Free Spirit rose. What a beauty!


By mixing a wide range of face flowers (roses, hydrangea, daffodils, protea), tubular stems (calla lilies) and filler flowers (asclepia, tweedia), nobody will notice that there isn’t a leaf or branch in sight!


Please listen to Ray of Light so you, too, can be transported back to a time when Madonna was at her unequivocal artistic best, and before she started speaking with a British accent and messing with her glorious face. The music will warm you and move you. And join me back here in two weeks for more spring sound and vision!

Sarah

The colours are just beautiful. I really love this series. And Ray of Light is a good start to the the day.

Anne

I love this series! Your arrangements are so inspiring, and I appreciate the way you break things down to their individual parts (especially separating and labeling the flowers you’re using). I’m just starting to learn about flower arranging and your posts are an incredibly helpful resource. Thank you!

Beccy

Gorgeous, goregous, gorgeous flowers. Colours are amazing, love the album as well! Beccy

Emily

Gosh, I love this column so much. You always do such a wonderful job at bringing an album to life, Sarah!
The color palette and flower choices are out of this world :)

Brunie

Oh My God, what a glorious arrangement…and that rose…just the name alone Free Spirit ….A great lesson in floral arrangement…Love it and Thank YOU. And I love Madonna too, I think she’s one of the best artists of our time…and will listen to Sound Garden…just the name alone….

Andrea

This is the first time I’m learning about the tape grid. Instantly inspired and in love with protea and free spirit roses! Thanks!

Alison

I grew up listening to Madonna (and in 6th grade looked like a poor man’s version of her in her Lucky Star video-fingerless lace gloves and all. ), but her Ray of Light period is by far my favorite too. She was luminous. And speaking of luminous… that bouquet!! I almost always just use white blooms, but you have inspired me to use some color. Thank you!

Sarah

thanks, everyone, for your fabulous feedback! @claire – i completely forgot about madonna and the infamous hydrangea incident. and what a spectacular garden hydrangea that was! i can’t believe i used them in this arrangement – SORRY, MADGE!

Barbara Fellerman

I had no idea. You were doing this series…..I enjoyed it SO much,,,,,and it has inspired me……to go to iTunes and buy Ray of light,,,and to start creating arrangements,instead of just putting flowers in a vase from the store………just brilliant……great way to,start the day xxxx

Annette

lovely how to on flowers always a tough subject to demonstrate. mixing colors in the same range with a few pops of contrasting brights a winner! beautiful!

Modern Country Lady

Hahaha – just saw the ” I loathe hydrangea’s ” video- oops! :-)
This flower arrangement is gorgeous and stunning even though it contains hydrangea’s hehehe

Catherine

oh my, where were you a million years ago when I got married, now THIS is what I was trying to explain to the florist who didn’t quite get it. Ah well…better late than never! Whee!

Ashbsmiley

What an exceptional album and moment in time/history ‘Ray of Light” was! Thank you for the reminder of this amazing piece of audible art and the inspiration the arrangement brought upon me.

biberella

I love your work, what a beautiful flower-tribute to Madonna ! I thought I was the biggest Madonna-Fan on earth, but maybe we are two :-)
Thank you for this wonderful post ! I am going to start “ray of light” now.
Have a great weekend !
♥Alex

Lisa

beautiful colour arrangement – nailed it hydrangea and all!

Andrew

Fantastic arrangement! All of the orange shades really complement each other. Summer is soon here!

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